Cassandra Crothers breaks the mold. She is the Director of Inside Sales at Cisco Meraki for Asia Pacific, Japan and China, and leadership has always been in her sights. She’s taken risks and bold career moves to gain experience, and there’s no stopping her!
Leading Future Leaders
Cassandra’s ambition for leadership extends far beyond herself. In her Inside Sales team, she often brings in people early in their corporate career journeys. Cassandra has the opportunity to influence development in a much broader way than just teaching them how to do their job.
Casandra has been able to create a team that are regularly identified as high performers, and it’s built on a foundation of passion for true collaboration.
“That’s my biggest achievement – to create winning talent for the organization in lots of different roles that I’ve led people in. You do that through creating culture and enabling people.”
“My team needs to be a learning and protective space, where people are really learning how to do their roles. You have to nurture the talent, teach the skills to be able to do the job and also encourage the team to be good corporate citizens. That’s about setting up the right principles – behavior, creating an inclusive space and having rigorous development conversations. It’s more of a coaching role than anything else.”
Innovation and psychological safety at work
Cassandra loves to nurture people in a safe environment where they can learn from mistakes. What she’s talking about is called psychological safety. It’s a key indicator for team performance and allows people to make mistakes and take risks whilst also maintaining high standards.
Cassandra’s tips for creating an environment where people can safely take risks, make mistakes, and produce high quality work, are:
- Set clear expectations. “Does everyone know what they’re here to do and how to do what they’re being asked to do? We outline all the things someone needs to do and demonstrate, then help them do it.”
- Assign peer mentors. “Often people will ask their peers rather than their manager out of embarrassment.”
- Have a transparent culture. “Sales runs on transparency because you either hit the target number or you don’t. Have a culture where you can call it out early if you need to change or drop something, and we can talk about how it will be covered. Learn to have a conversation about how to mitigate your own risks.”
- Expect the best. “Always give people the benefit of the doubt, rather than starting with no trust in the beginning.”
This culture of innovation, trying new ideas and failing fast is across Cisco, not just in Cassandra’s team.
“It gives you permission to try. I’ve observed it in lots of different ways over the years, and seen my own leadership teams do it as well.”
In one of her early projects at Cisco, the team were questioning their purpose and in Cassandra’s words, “floundering around”. Rather than pushing through and pretending everything was fine, the manager decided to wrap up the project.
“We all thought we’d failed. She said, no it’s ok, there’s just no point wasting peoples’ time if nothing’s going to come of it, there are other things we can be doing.”
For Cassandra, it’s a measure of true success to be able to say, ‘that didn’t work out’. It supports an innovation culture because people don’t fear they’ll be let go if they fail.
“We start more things than we finish, and that’s how you can tell we have a culture of innovation – people are pushing the boundaries.”
Taking risks to get to leadership
Cassandra describes her career path as meandering. She’s had experience across Customer Service, Customer Success and Adoption, Services and Technical Support and now Sales. Working in all Cisco’s key functions has given her the opportunity to understand how the whole business operates.
“I’ve been very clear about wanting to move into leadership and taken risks to move into roles in order to gain experience.”
She has deliberately moved around industries and through the business to learn new things, rather than following a traditional, linear career path.
“The risk is you’re going to do something you don’t understand, and you don’t know something as well as people you’re working with – or even the people you’re managing. The risk is that you might fail and like most people, failing is my worst nightmare!”
Despite her fears, Cassandra has continued to build her transferrable skills and go after new learning opportunities. Now her track record has proven to herself that if she puts herself out there and takes on a challenging growth opportunity, she can make a success of it. When she was ready for management, Cisco offered her a technical team role.
“I’m not technical! But, I really had committed to wanting to be a leader and they were going to give me a chance. I had to put my money where my mouth was! It was a great job, and it taught me how to work my network really hard.”
In interviews Cassandra highlights her transferrable skills and talks about how to fill any gaps or address concerns. While it’s a risk to leave your comfort zone, Cassandra thinks two steps ahead in her career and focuses on building her skills and abilities.
“Ask, what string does this add to your bow? Getting that experience puts you ahead of your competitors. Find things that will test you, but you know you’ll be good at, where you’re learning something new so you can add that to your repertoire.”
Cisco have a friendly, engaging culture with a focus on achievement and success. It’s an inclusive workplace with leaders who truly care and a pay-it-forward culture. For Cassandra, the future is bright for her there!